antique table monkey holding it upantique table monkey holding it up

The Chatsworth Nagasaki Table from The Great Exhibition 1951


c. 1850




Height 72.00 cm. Width 121.00 cm.

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The lobed top decorated in gold lacquer and lavishly inlaid in stained mother-of-pearl and powder in Nagasaki style on a roiro-nuri ground, the
very thin, transparent layers of aogai [shell] with their natural blue colours heightened by brilliant red and yellow pigment, painted over a white
 gofun ground with three foliate panels containing ho-o, cranes and other birds amongst peonies and bamboo, the centre with cresting waves, the
side with further flowers, the top supported by a pillar in the form of a tree trunk, painted dark brown over crepe silk, with green and white
applications of ‘lichen’ and the extraordinary element of the trio of life-size macaque monkeys surrounding and supporting the column, carved
out of wood, with fur applied to all the limbs and the heads and with inlaid glass eyes dressed in chanchanko jackets. Japanese, circa 1850.

Provenance: Purchased by the 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858) from the Great Exhibition of 1851.

This unique table, made around 1850, is known to have been purchased by William Spencer Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858). From the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the Crystal Palace – the architect of which was the Duke’s own gardener Joseph Paxton who was subsequently knighted for the achievement. There are late 19th century photographs extant of this remarkable table in the Oak Room at Chatsworth included in two books about the house, The House, a Portrait of Chatwort (1982) and Chatsworth – The House (2002), authored by the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.

Another table with the same rich, many-coated black lacquer and aogai inlaid decoration, but smaller and circular, is in the Het Loo Palace National Museum at Apeldoorm in the Netherlands (see Oliver Impey and Christiaan Jorg, Japanese Export Lacquer 1580 – 1850 (Amsterdam, 2005), pi. 544). This, too, has a fairly elaborate pillar and feet, the pillar being carved as a palm tree and the base with three feet as the pads of a lion. It is documented to the year 1849, the same period as
the present piece.

Literature: Impey and Jorg showed conclusively that both round and hexagonal tripod tables lacquered black with Nagasaki-style shell inlay of bird and flower designs were
being made in Kyoto during the first half of the 19th century. Patterns for tripod tables with legs in the form of butterflies and griffons, bats and others are illustrated
in a book published in 1856 by a studio called Asada – the name of a lacquerer active from the end of the 18th century. Tilt-top tables, as depicted in the Asada
document are to be found in world museum collections such as the hexagonal table with a shell inlaid design of a hen and blossoming tree in the Peabodv Essex
Museum Salem, acquired around 1850. This type has been identified by Impey and Jorg as having been brought to Salem as part of the private cargo
of Captain Deveneux on the Franklin in 1799.

Monkeys dressed in short, padded chanchanko jackets were trained by itinerant performers in Japan and these are found frequently in Japanese art. The subject would
have greatly amused Europeans familiar with the French fashion for ‘Singerie’, the depiction of monkeys in human dress engaged in human activities, in both paintings and sculpture. Indeed in England pet monkeys were dressed and taught to emulate human behaviour; for example Hogarth’s Taste in High Life of 1746 depicts a
group of young people with similarly dressed, monocled monkey perusing a menu. The creature wears a coat of the 18th century silk taffeta type made for a pet monkey
in the collection of the Musee de la Textile, Paris. The table as great work of lacquered art must have drawn admiration and acclaim from amused
visitors to the 1851 exhibition and later at Chatsworth.

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